Sunday, July 25, 2010

They Say You're Going Places

I just got back from a week in California! If you know my family, you know that Disney is a big deal. Big, big, big deal. We are in Disneyland at least once a year and usually at least one of us is also at Disney World or the Tokyo Disney Resort at one time or another during the year. 90% of the art work in our house is Disney. I tell people that Disney barely comes in second to Jesus in my family. They laugh, but it's not too far from a reality.

This was our first year staying in one of our vacation club condos. We have membership in the Disney Vacation Club and get to stay in really nice condos with multiple bedrooms and a full kitchen at the Disney Resorts. I was perfectly content to sit in the condo all day really. The Grand Californian hotel is nothing short of spectacular:

We are definitely a bastard step-child family when it comes to vacation club guests. We stay in an extremely nice condo in a five star hotel, but we drive in a crappy mini-van (which got us stranded in the desert on the way home; 'nother story, 'nother time) with a Utah license plate. We didn't fly in. The window on the driver's side doesn't roll down so we open the door to talk to the bell-hops. We don't want them to carry our luggage to our room because we can't afford to tip them. And on our drive to and from we stay at super sketchy, white-trash motels in St. George. Real classy.

Disneyland can be miserable in the summer if you don't know how to do it right. I feel bad seeing other people having a horrible time in the park. I've decided I'm going to make every effort to only go during off-season. It is simply the only way to go.

What I really want to talk about is a little excursion I made by myself. The Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California is the only place my family EVER vacations. Does it get old you ask? Yeah. It does. I'll always love that place and I'll always go back, but I do have yearnings to see other things. I kind of realized that even though this is a travel experience, I'm so sheltered because it's the exact same trip every single time. I see the same things. I might as well be teleporting back and forth from Farmington to Anaheim. This time, I was going to actually take advantage of being in Southern California.

I was lucky that my family chose to go to California while the Tony Award winning musical In the Heights was playing at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. I was in New York just a couple weeks after In the Heights had won the Tony Award for Best Musical and of course, getting tickets was impossible. I couldn't even believe my luck when I found out that Lin-Manuel Miranda, composer, lyricist, and actor who originally played the lead role, Usnavi, was booked for the Pantages engagement. I HAD to go.

The tickets were surprisingly very affordable, it was getting there that was going to be difficult. I was going to go by myself in that my family clearly wasn't interested. I wouldn't have the car because my parents were taking my younger brothers to Legoland that day. I could ask the concierge at the hotel to set up a cab for me, but that could potentially cost hundreds of dollars. My option was then public transportation. And let me tell you, it was the experience of a life-time.

I meticulously planned out the trip, looked up what trains to take and where to make the transfers. I gave myself hours of extra safety net time, but of course, I ended up on the train (thanks to my parents) as it was leaving, without a ticket. I was immediately kicked off the train at the next stop in Fullerton because I was riding illegally. Luckily, another train of a different railway system was right behind it. It costed extra, but hey, it was super nice and completely empty. It was a coach coming from the airport and the interior was nearly identical to that of an airplane. I got on with a guy in his 20s that had a little kid with him that couldn't have been any older than 10. They sat right in front of me. The ride was just under an hour to my transfer and I couldn't help but overhear parts of their converstaion. It was absolutely beautiful. I was able to establish that they were cousins, the younger one had come from out of town for a family reunion. They were looking through a photo album and I heard things like this:

Young cousin: "Who's that?"
Older cousin: "Your other cousin, my younger brother."
Y: "Why haven't I met him?"
O: "He died"
Y: "How?"
O:  "A drug overdose."
Y: "What does that mean?"
O: "He just took too many drugs and his body couldn't handle it. He was 15 years old. You were a baby."
Y: "Would he come to the reunion if he were alive?"
O: "(laughing) How would I know that?"
Y: "(pointing upwards) Ask him."

The ride on that Amtrak coach to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles was really nice, and I came out teary eyed. Call me a creep, whatever.

Union Station was intimidating to say the least. I needed to transfer onto one of the metro lines underground. It took me a while to find it. It was definitely a change of scenery. Definitely different from the nice clean train I had taken earlier. Riding in that metro was like checking into an insane asylum. While I waited for the train, people were eyeing me and standing ridiculously close to me. I had my hand glued to my wallet. I was dressed decently in that I was going to go see a professional, national touring company, and by default I was by far the wealthiest looking person around. Once I got on the train, I noticed I was the white-est person there; a very different feeling for me. I'm used to being the only person of any color at all in sight.

Just before the train started moving, this five foot nothing hispanic woman, probably in her 80s, gets up and moves to the seat directly across the aisle from me. Once we started moving, she was yelling at everyone on the train in Spanish with this terrifying scowl on her face. People disregarded it as if it was a regular occurance. I was terrified. Some people got closer to her and nodded, others glared at her, most ignored her. A couple stops after, a man that looked like he had never bathed in his life got on. He had dread locks that looked like possums, inch-long fingernails, and smelled like something had died inside of him. He was completely delirious. He was giggling, whispering things to himself, grinding on people standing up, getting right in people's faces and screaming "EXCUSE ME!" every ten seconds or so. He was happy though.

Although  I was shaking and maybe a little bit scared for my life, I think that was a great experience for me. It was great to get away from sunshine-y, squeaky clean Anaheim, into the real world of Los Angeles and Hollywood. It's not a nice place, but hey, most of this world isn't. Luckily the Hollywood and Vine station was right across the street from the Pantages so I didn't have to wander around. Even in my short walk across the street, there was a very dark and filthy spirit associated with Hollywood Blvd.

I sat down and watched the show, and was absolutely blown away. If you've seen this show, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. The energy has your blood pumping from beginning to end. The score is up-beat, exciting, and beautiful. The story is hilarious, heart-breaking, relevant, and inspiring. I had high expectations, and they were more than met. I'm serious when I say that this might be the best piece of musical theater I have ever seen. I've been reading reviews of this touring company, and some say that they are a stronger group than the original Broadway cast. That doesn't surprise me. Every. Single. Person....was absolutely incredible. This was the best collection of talent I've ever seen in a single produciton. It was amazing to see Lin-Manuel at the helm, guiding his baby. It's really something to see someone play the lead role in a piece that they wrote themselves. He had an indescribable investment in the show. How have I been so lucky this summer? Audra McDonald and now this?

There was a beautiful correlation between the depicted financial struggles of these people in Washington Heights, New York and what I had just experienced on the metro.

I most identified with the character Nina. I sort of loathe when I identify most with a female character because then I know I can never play them. ANYway. Nina has just returned from her freshman year in college, but has a big secret. We're at the same place in life, so it's not bad that I related to a chick, ok? I'll relate to Usnavi more once I'm older and working in the real world. Anyway, what I really loved about this story was that it centered around such normal issues. I think sometimes we want theater to make us uncomfortable. We want to see these horrible ordeals, these adult situations, these gruesome sights. Don't get me wrong, I think there is a lot to learn from heavy subject-matter, but I also think that you can tell a moving, dramatic, and inspirational story about simple problems. The issues covered in this story are very simple. There's no drugs, no adultery, no suicide, no abuse, and no murder, but the story is still very serious and very moving. Anyone that's ever been part of a family or a community can relate to it. I don't want to spoil any more of it. Just make every effort to see it.

Arielle Jacobs singing Breathe:

So beautiful. This video doesn't do her justice though.

The rest of the touring cast on Lopez Tonight:

Sorry about the scatter-brained nature of this (and every) post. I'm too lazy to organize this many thoughts. Overall, I'm glad I got to go on vacation. I loved being in my home away from home, but loved getting out and seeing the world even more. Exploration is a great thing.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fast Forward

It's kind of crazy how fast my life is moving right now. Things that I have known would always come my way are here. I really have no idea what my future holds for me. That's a weird feeling.

I made a summer to do list. As of Wednesday, it's done.

I drove to Cedar City on Tuesday and saw some Shakespeare (food for my soul). I saw Peter Pan at the Utah Shakespearean Festival back in 1999 and have wanted to go back basically every year since then. This year I finally did. Much Ado About Nothing and Macbeth both highly recommended. I saw this brilliant woman named Kym Mellen-whom I had the pleasure of working with at BYU- do this:

And this:

Both of her performances were beyond description, so brilliant. I felt honored to know her and to have been directed by her. I think I forget how privileged I was this last year. People would kill for the kind of experience I got and the talent I was affected, taught, and uplifted by.

I then drove to the middle-of-nowhere Ivins, Utah to see a bunch of people swing around on a fly system and pretend to be gorillas in an outdoor amphitheatre called might've heard of it? The show was about as good as my description. Oh, and it didn't start until 8:30 PM, ended at 11:00 and when the show ended it was still over 100 degrees outside. My back was drenched in the middle of the night. Oh, AND the pregnant lady next to me peed her pants and I nearly gagged on the smell for the entire first act. AND, her daughter, who was sitting four seats away, kept walking up to her and complaining, in an outdoor voice, about how she couldn't see. And I think the married couple from Vegas sitting in front of me might've been hitting on me and everyone around them...collectively. And (you get the picture). It might be a while before I come back here again.

Being in Cedar City was kind of weird. It triggered some unexpected emotional responses inside of me. I shouldn't have been surprised though, I went there with these people. I think I've just convinced myself to forget which makes remembering all the more painful because I promised myself that I wouldn't forget...yet here I am, forgetting; if that makes any sense at all.

I feel like I've sort of arrived. Everything I knew would happen is happening. Now all I have are my memories, which I have very foolishly neglected. Why is it so hard for us to just be little kids? Why?!

Oh, and that brings me to this other kind of big thing...I'm going on a mission! I can't believe it's here, but at the same time, I am so ready to just get out of here. So ready to teach. So ready to serve. So ready to help. So ready to give everything I have. Where am I going you ask? Does it matter? Nah. But anyway, I'm going to Kobe, Japan! Heck. Yes. My parents lived in the boundaries of this mission when they were first married. My older brother was born there. My dad taught english there in several different junior high and high schools. Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Nara are all in the boundaries of this mission. My grandpa's family roots are in the boundaries of this mission. My family has a freakin feudal age castle in this mission. Cool stuff. I am so excited and humbled. I leave on September 22nd. Hoorah.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Simple Little Things

I have to write about this while it's fresh on my mind. Tonight I saw Audra McDonald and Will Swenson in 110 in the Shade at Hale Center Theater Orem. Two mega-Broadway stars reprising roles they played on Broadway in a 300 seat community theater-in-the-round. Big deal. Huge deal. This is like the planets aligning...kinda deal.

Anyway, um...this was quite possibly the best theater experience of my life. I've never been so entertained, so impressed, so thrilled,  so inspired, or so touched by a piece of musical theater like this before. The talent was phenomenal across the board. There is not a weak performance in the bunch. I was not unimpressed or dissappointed in anyone on that stage at any time and that is a huge deal. That being said, watcing Audra was like nothing else. You think you know what a perfect performance is, and then you see her. I have never, ever been so blown away by a single performance. My expectations were sky high and she managed to shatter them. I don't know how better to sum this up than with the Simple Little Things I saw:
  • Front Row - This theater is so freakin' tiny. I've seen a couple other shows here, both times towards the back. There isn't a bad seat in the house, but I did  have a great seat. Will hit me with his rain staff accidentally when he turned around. Audra's dress brushed against my legs several times and she rested her hand on the back of my chair. Heaven.
  • Lizzie's entrance - The energy was like nothing I've ever felt before. I've seen big names in Broadway productions before and in my experience, when a big name makes their entrance, the audience cheers and the actor stands there, frozen, basking in the applause the audience is feeding them. Audra had none of it. There was an eruption of applause alright, but she didn't spend one moment not being Lizzie Curry. She hugged her father and her brothers and started doing the dishes. She didn't stand there and indulge herself.
  • The first note she sang - My heart fluttered in unison with everyone in the audience. She has such a unique, stunning, mixed voice that rattled the walls of the theater and pierced the hearts of the audience.
  • File - He was just so great from top to bottom. I've seen this guy in another show and I was very impressed with him yet again. He has a fantastic voice and he is such a smart actor. This may be a bizarre observation coming from another guy, but he has such expressive eyes. You could always tell what he was thinking by looking into his eyes.
  • Starbuck's entrance - The collective swoon of the ladies behind me was just as natural as his performance. Will surprised me. He was charming and unassuming. He didn't make the role anything more than what it really was.
  • The Picnic - You cannot fake a performance as emaculately detailed as Audra's. There was passion and humanity even in the way she set up the plates. The expression on her face when she realized that File wasn't coming was unforgettable.
  • Raunchy!  - I think I finally understand the phrase "bring the house down." She so brought it. I've never seen someone so animated, so alive, so ridiculous, but at the same time, completely grounded and real. She had everyone in the palm of her hand and had them rolling in the aisles. It was also fantastic to see H.C. actually playing a harmonica and guitar.
  • When Noah told "the truth" - I loved the way he delivered it. It was such a harsh thing to say, but he honestly believed that it was the right thing to say and did it because he loves her. It could be very easy to hate this character, but I felt for him. It made it all the more heartbreaking to see Lizzie reluctantly agree with him.
  • Old Maid - Just...oh my gosh. Bore her soul.
  • "I'm Pretty" - And she pretty. I had a huge lump in my throat when she asked "is this really me?" with tears streaming down her face.
  • The choreography - I was holding my breath a couple times. I was terrified that someone was going to fall off of that tiny stage but they were all pro. Hats off.
  • The end - It's just perfect. Go see it. "Oh Starbuck, you said the wrong thing."
I could make minor criticisms about the staging and such, but really, what purpose would it serve? And, I don't want to.

If there's one word to describe this show, it's honest. Everything about it was real. Hale could've really dropped the ball with this. They could've made this show a flashy spectacle and alienated their cast from Audra and Will, but they really pulled it off. The entire cast is to be heavily commended. Yes she's Audra McDonald and her performance stood out; she doesn't have four Tony Awards for nothing. But it was an honest performance and it was a humble performance. It was never about her. She was contributing to the rest of her cast, giving them their moments and being as true to herself as possible. The look on her face during the curtain call told it all. She nodded to each side of the audience, just bowing her head in thanks. No arms flailing, no fake smile, no blowing kisses, just genuine appreciation.

 I honestly feel as though I've gotten to know her through her two hours of vulnerability on stage.  When you give an honest, connected performance, you let people see the highs and lows of your life. That's what I saw tonight and that's why I love theater. I believe that everyone has something deeply divine in them that is worth sharing with the world. I love seeing people for who they really are and the theater is the best place for it. This really reminded me of that beautiful truth. Thanks to the cast and crew of this incredible production. This was a once in a lifetime experience and I'm a better person because of it.

This production plays until August 7th, but Audra and Will's limited engagement ends this Saturday, July 10th. This is a must-see, cannot miss. Really. Tickets range from $99-$149 and there are still plenty of seats available. It is worth every penny. BUT, if you simply cannot afford these prices (I couldn't) there is a solution! Show up an hour before the show starts and any remaining seats can be yours for $25! That is the deal of the century. You will never get the opportunity to see a performer of this magnitude in a space this small ever again. I'm considering going again. If you haven't seen it yet, I would be showing up at 6 every night until Saturday if I were you. It is certainly worth your time. I promise.
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Friday, July 2, 2010

Just Another Update

I want to dear friend? Am I allowed to call her that? Well, I want to quote fellow blogger Brooke White. She blogged everyday for the month of June, this is what she had to say:
"Knowing that each day I was going to need to blog about something forced me to live with a greater awareness, I've lived just a little more present in each moment and that has caused me to tap into a realm of creativity that is always there and waiting to be discovered. That's just the thing though... it must be sought after consistently, and I'm finding that the enemy of creativity is laziness, negativity, fear and self doubt, I've had my days where I've given in to it. It happens... but it's all good cause "I'm trying, I'm doing the work, I'm not a slacker". "
Why do I forget this so often? The Prophet(s) have been telling us to write in our journals and to keep records of everything. Sometimes I think it's not important at all, sometimes I think I'm spending too much time and effort on it. It's all good! This blog in and of itself already has a year life-span and Jon Low is such a different person now than when he started, even if I've been pretty lazy with it.

So what is there to update you with right now? Well, not a whole lot. I'm still working online full-time so I'm indoors a lot. If you ever want to do something fun and outdoors (well, just out of my bedroom really) call me. Please. I'm serious.

Yesterday I went to dinner with a very dear friend of mine, just cuz. I love those occurances and those relationships, don't you? People you spend time with just for the sake of being around them? It's the best kind of relationship, I think. It's funny how you learn who your real friends are. Sometimes you just give and give and it's never enough.

Speaking of giving and giving, I found a true gem on YouTube yesterday. I competed in forensics all throughout high school and the event I focused on my senior year was Dramatic Interpretation. 10 minutes to interpret a published piece of literature however you'd like. Play all the characters, play one character, narrate the story, whatever. I remember throwing mine together at, literally, the last minute. I used one of my favorite books The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. It's the story of an autistic child who discovers lies his father has told him, trying to maintain his innocence, and subsequently, discovers his own emotions. My first time using it was at the biggest competition in the state, Ceaser Cicero at Northridge High and I was still working out kinks in my script moments before I walked into my first round. And you know what? Looking back on it, it was pretty darn good if I do say so myself. I felt extremely insecure doing it, but I did everything I could to connect to the characters I established and give honest moments. I even remember shedding a tear in my third round. I think the stress of it all really got to me and I incorporated it into my performance subconciously. It's funny how sometimes your best moments are accidents.

When I found out I had made the final round of six, I was absolutely in shock. I was certain the judges had seen through my thrown together, flawed piece, but there I was. I had to go first in that final round. I was terrified but I'm quite glad I went first, everyone else was sensational. Now I was really scratching my head as to why I made it to the final round. Everyone had gone except the last speaker. She was in another final round in a different event so we had to sit around for a minute and wait for her. When she walked in the room, she was followed by an entourage of people that had come to watch her. Yes, everyone in the round was amazing, but this girl was in a league of her own. She walked in and did this:

This is her at the National Championships, and yes, she won the whole thing. She is a national champion.

Back at Ceaser Cicero, I remember during the awards ceremony, they had all six finalists come on stage to receive their awards. They would award first, second and third place and the other three received small trophies that said "finalist" on them. They read the names of course, in dramatic fashion, from the bottom up. I remember wanting them to just call my name first. I was the weakest of all of these people and I felt so guilty being up there. I had just thrown this thing together the day before! They didn't call my name first. By the time they had read three names that weren't mine, my rowdy Davis High teammates were chanting my name. I have never blushed so much in my life. I thought for sure the other kids wanted to beat me with their trophies, my piece was weak. Finally, my name was the fifth name called. I took second and I'm sure you know who took first.

I ended up taking second to Jane every other time I competed against her. We'd always laugh and congratualte each other right after the awards ceremony. At the National Qualifying tournament, the pressure was on. My coach watched my piece several times and gave me all sorts of suggestions. Two people qualify in each event and everyone expected Jane and I to be the qualifiers in Dramatic Interp. The Nat Quals tournament runs on an elimination system. Everyone does two rounds and then the people that have an average 4th or 5th rank are eliminated and they go until they have two winners. (Un)Lucky for me, Jane was in both of my rounds. I knew I wasn't going to be getting any 1's. But I knew I could pull off 2's and stay in the competition for a while.

I was eliminated right off the bat. I only did two rounds. I remember Jane asking me which room I was in for my next round. When I told her I was cut, she kept apologizing and asking me if I was ok; almost as if she was expecting me to burst into tears.

The funny thing is, I really wasn't that disappointed. I saw pieces in my other rounds that were pretty bad, yes, but others that I thought deserved to go to nationals more than mine. The piece that ended up going (aside from Jane) was from Murray High (who are randomly in our region when it comes to Nationals because apparently the schools around them don't care for Nationals) and it was almost autobiographical for the speaker. How could I go instead of him? My coach asked me what had happened the next day at school. She said I had been ranked last in both of my rounds. I still, to this day, don't know what happened. I feel like I was blessed with a charitable heart when it came to that experience. I honestly didn't mind. I could've gotten upset and fought the scores and wrote angry letters to the judges, but I was content. I think that was an important thing for me to feel. Had I been bitter, I would been even more bitter knowing that the one person I couldn't beat all season was the national champion. I think I might've hated myself a little bit.

I had forgotten about this experience until my friend mentioned Jane at dinner yesterday. The memories all flooded back. Good thing I'm rememering them now and blogging about it, right?! Seriously friends, blog. Keep a journal. It's therapeutic.